When reading about the history of fiber art it seems to take on many elements. The history of fiber art incorporates craft, textile and design elements that are not usually explored in regular art history. The use of embroidery and clothing inspired artists such as Sonia Delaunay who had started off as a painter and found new inspirations when she shifted her medium from brush, canvas and oil paint to needle, thread and textile printing. In exploring Sonia’s textile and wearable art works I’d like to explore her success as a woman in the art world. At the time she was recognized as a great artist and today as well, in relation to her husband Robert Delaunay. This paper will explore her innovative ventures into textile and clothing design and the importance of her work in fiber history.

Figure 1. Sonia Delaunay in her studio at boulevard Malesherbes, Paris, France
Ukraine born, Russian raised, Sonia Delaunay started her artistic life as a painter and graphic artist.(Roatclap 3) Inspired by French impressionist she moved to Paris with her husband Robert Delaunay. She created an early movement of abstract art called Orphism. 
Figure 2. Rythme Colore 1946 oil on canvas
Having had her first solo painting show in 1908, she decided to liberate her creativity by picking up the needle and decided to use embroidery as a way for her to freely explore the use of color. (Buck 19)  She felt a connection with her Russian roots by using the medium of embroidery. While taking a few years off of painting to concentrate on her family she continued being creative, making a patchwork quit for her son made of scrap fabrics.(figure 3) This quilt was a discovery for the Delaunay’s it became a study of applied contrast colors similar to cubism. Sonia describes it as her first abstract artwork. (Collings 48)  She referred to it as simultané or simultaneous. Sonia described it as “colored forms as having a single meaning or many meaning simultaneously … using the purest hues, she contrasted them..” (Roatclap 4) She made a dress for herself to wear out  to the Bal Bullier with her husband  and called  it her Simultaneous dress in 1912-13. (Albritton 10) Her and her husband were renowned as avant-guard artists, a head of their time. (Morano14 )

Figure 3. Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Baby Quilt, 1912. Wool, silk, and fur.
This was followed by using the same method on objects around the home like lamps and curtains. (Morano 14) Sonia also loved music and in her painting she attempted to “make the colors dance”. (Morano 14)  Her ventures into costume and textile was influenced by a Dadaist group in Zurich who met at a performance center called the 
Figure 4. Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Simultaneous dress, front back Paris, 1913.
Cabaret Voltaire around 1916.  This group had an appreciation for the everyday object and had liberal attitudes about arts and crafts. (Buck 55) The idea of “spontaneous creativity” was both a stylistic ethos of the Dadaist movement and descriptive of the way Sonia created her designs by finding poetry in every day objects and living. (Buck 55)  She began fusing poetry into her clothing designs “dress-poems” using poetic words in her designs integrated with geometry, including a dress worn by Igor Stravinsky’s wife. (Buck 59)  Sonia’s creative performance pieces and textile prints were innovative and fresh design for the fashion world. It was the perfect marriage of her art and craft. She established her own printing workshop where she had more control of her medium and could regulate and blend her own colors. (Buck 65) In fall 1924 her operation was in full operation and she hired a staff to do embroideries.  Her clothing designs were very successful. Sonia’s designs had women feeling very liberated as they allowed for greater freedom of movement and increased comfort. At this time, post World War 1, many of the textile and clothing designers in Paris were women. Also tango was a big craze at the time Sonia’s Simultaneous dress was designed to be comfortable and allowed ease of movement (Albritton 8) She designed clothes for many in the “bourgeoisie” as well as her friends in the artistic community.  

Sonia’s textile designs had an element different from those of past decorative designers. Her prints had a painterly quality to them. Sonia thought like a painter therefore she designed her fabrics using form and balance and color. Recently attending an exhibit at the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in  New York City, I was able to see her prints first hand. Her love of geometry was very apparent and use of patterns was incredibly intricate.  Although her prints were geometrical it showed that she used paint to sketch out the prints therefore you can feel a handmade aspect to the prints. Texture of the brush leading to a slight unevenness of the color. I enjoyed this aspect in the fabric prints, as it seemed to add movement. Perhaps this was her intention, which fit with her explanations of Simultaneous art.

Sonia’s use of embroidery in her work is intriguing. This was her way to discover new ideas and explore color in a different way she could of in her paintings. The same holds true with her quilting and dressmaking. She felt a strong cultural connection in this work. When comparing Sonia’s embroidery work to the subversive stitch by Roszika Parker, I found a quote that explains how Sonia referred to embroidery. Parker mentions when referring to the arts and crafts movement “They too believed in the transformative power of the arts not only on society but also on the lives of the practitioners.” (Parker xxii) The freedom Sonia found in her embroidery developed her artistic practice from then on. The ideas behind the arts and crafts movement were something Sonia believed in. She already worked in this way as she believed art should be “applied through all aspects of life” (Buck 56) Also found that her Dadaist friends in Zurich had a found sensitivity to applied art to everyday objects and influenced their opinions on arts and crafts. According to Adela Spindler Roatcap, art history books mainly mention the work of her husband Robert Delaunay. (Roatcap 3) I find this surprising as Sonia seemed far more successful than her husband in her career as an artist and designer. When she is mentioned in books she was labeled as a “decorative artist”. (Buck 102)  Often this happens when a husband-wife artist team the husband becomes the “leader” or the genius of the two. Luckily for Sonia she is recognized as a great and talented artist that is giving her high praise and the “artist genius” status she deserves. Proving that female artworks of the past should be re-examined with contemporary ideology.

Sonia’s success as a woman during that time was remarkable. She was surrounded by the elite of the cultural establishment of that time and place such as poets, writers, painters and dancers. This kept her constantly in the art world loop. Her first solo show was held at the gallery of her first husband, Wilhelm Uhde who was an art critique and dealer. There she met Picasso, Braque, Derain, Vlaminck and Robert Delaunay. (Morano 12) I mention these names not suggesting that she owes her success in any way to the people in which she met put mainly to illustrate sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s theory on the field of cultural production with the artist genius. In many cases I have read about this theory that was used for male artists in history. Sonia Delaunay’s surroundings helped contribute to her success. In the research I have found her being referred to a genius. A quote by Diana Vreeland in Art into fashion says,” Displaying the resilient confidence of intuitive genius.” Sonia seemed to have had a very well developed field of cultural production. Her progression into textile designs was lead to her having to support her family. This was after the Russian revolution as the family funds she was receiving were confiscated. (Morano 14) This natural switch was out of necessity but not entirely selling herself out. I find it interesting that during the 1920’s as a woman she was able to support her husband and son and did so very successfully and always respected her artistic integrity.

Sonia’s transformative style in the creation of wearable art pieces in the 1920’s was a remarkable accomplishment. Her contribution to the art and fiber art world should be acknowledged. The inspiration she found within her Ukrainian and Russian roots inspired her to begin embroidering and develop the carefree gutsy designs she created. From her simultaneous dress, dress-poems to her textile fashion able designs she was true to her artistic vision and constantly innovative. Bold textile works and color expression made her stand out. She added colorful prints at a time when the fashions were drab and in need of a fresh change. Exhibits like Color Moves; Art and fashion By Sonia Delaunay at the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in New York City, shows the admiration for her work in this present day. As a woman Sonia Delaunay contributed a lifetime of creative work that is respected today and because of that being written about in history books finally getting the credit she deserves.

Ann, Albitton. "She has a body on her dress: Sonia Delaunay-Trek’s first          Simultaneous dress 1913." Dress vol32 (2005): 3-13. Dress. Web. 9 April. 2011.

Pierre, Bourdieu. “The field of cultural Production, or: The Economic World Reversed” In the field of cultural production, (Columbia University Press, 1993): 30-73
Robert T. Buck. Sonia Delaunay: A retrospective. Buffalo, New York: Albright-knox Art Gallery, 1980. Print.
Matthew, Collings. "No 17: Sonia Delaunay." Art rev no41 My (2010): 46-8. Art Review Ltd. Web. 9 April. 2011.
Elizabeth, Morano. Sonia Delaunay : Art Into fashion. New York: George Braziller inc., 1986. Print.
Roszika, Parker. “Forward and Introduction” in The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the making of the Feminine (New York: Palgrave MacMilan, 2010): Ix-xxii.
Adela, Spindler Roatcap. "Sonia Delaunay: Color, Rhythm, Simultaneity." Letter Art Review 18 no4 (2003): 3-13. Lett Art Rev. Web. 9 April. 2011.

Figure 1. Sonia Delaunay in her studio at boulevard Malesherbes, Paris, France, 1925, http://design-milk.com/color-moves-art-and-fashion-by-sonia-delaunay/#ixzz1JAuirCwM (Accessed April 10 2011)
Figure 2. Sonia, Delaunay. Rythme Colore.  Robert T. Buck. Sonia Delaunay: A retrospective. Buffalo, New York: Albright-knox Art Gallery, 1980. Print.p183.
Figure 3. Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Baby Quilt, 1912. Wool, silk, and fur. Ann, Albitton. "She has a body on her dress: Sonia Delaunay-Trek’s first Simultaneous dress 1913." Dress vol32 (2005): 3-13. Dress. Web. 9 April. 2011.
Figure 4. Models wearing beachwear designed by Sonia Delaunay, 1928 is reproduced from Color Moves: Art & Fashion by Sonia Delaunay. http://www.artbook.com/9780910503846.html (accessed April 10, 2011)
Figure 5. Tissu simultané no. 186, 1927 Sonia Delaunay. http://flippies.com/adflipoff/sonia-delaunay-color-moves-art-and-fashion-at-cooper-hewitt(accessed April 10, 2011)
Figure 6. Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Simultaneous dress, front back Paris, 1913.  Wool, silk,velvet, and fur. Ann, Albitton. "She has a body on her dress: Sonia Delaunay-Trek’s first Simultaneous dress 1913." Dress vol32 (2005): 3-13. Dress. Web. 9 April. 2011.
Figure 7. Fabric pattern by Sonia Delaunay, 1928. http://www.artexpertswebsite.ca/pages/artists/delaunay_s.php (accessed April 10, 2011)



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